Asia Bibi

In 2009, a poor Christian farm worker called Aasiya Noreen, now widely known as Asia Bibi, was harvesting berries with a group of Muslims in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

Asked to fetch water from a well in the field, she took a sip from the cup lying next it.

Told it was unclean for a Christian to drink from the same cup as a Muslim, Noreen allegedly responded: “I believe in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins. What did the Prophet ever do to save mankind?”

On learning she had insulted the Prophet, a mob attacked Asia Bibi’s home and beat her and her husband. A police investigation followed and she was jailed under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

In court, Asia Bibi denied she had committed blasphemy, but in November 2010, after twelve months imprisonment, a judge in the court of her home town, Shikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging.

But it gets worse.

On 4 January 2011, Salman Taseer, the Governor of the Punjab, a staunch supporter of Asia Bibi, was assassinated by one of his security team in Islamabad. Two months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minority Affairs minister, the only Christian in  parliament, was killed by gunmen, also in Islamabad. And tragically, Taseer’s 28 year old son was kidnapped that August and has not been seen since.

Asia Bibi’s appeal for clemency continued to be postponed until October 2014, when the Lahore High Court upheld the death sentence.

Following a sixth appeal by her attorney, in November 2015, the sentence was suspended and the court announced it will hear the appeal on 26 March 2016.

Until then, Asia Bibi remains in prison in Multan, an ultra-conservative town in the western Punjab.

UPDATE: on 29th February, Salman Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri was hanged.

Mumtaz Qadri